Politics

The Texans Fighting to Keep Abortion Accessible

People in masks sitting on steps, with one woman holding a sign reading, "No!! Texas Abortion Ban!! Outraged!!"
An activist holds up a sign as she joins people gathered for a reproductive rights rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall in New York City on Sept. 1. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

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Texas took the dauntless step last week to enact a strange and almost absolute abortion ban, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in a 5–4 vote, not to intervene. Texas now bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and it also allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps or intends to help someone else get an abortion in the state; complainants whose lawsuits are successful would get $10,000 from the person they’re hauling to court. The in-between part is what’s so novel about this new abortion law. Texas clinics have reported an uptick in surveillance outside their buildings—people in the parking lot taking pictures, jotting things down. And abortion clinics in Texas saw a surge in patients last week—people rushing in to get their procedures before they became illegal. The group Fund Choice Texas was swamped too, more than doubling its clientele, according to employee Anna Rupani. Her organization doesn’t provide abortions, but it helps people deal with the costs and hurdles around getting an abortion—because in Texas, even before this latest ban was on the books, there was a long list of obstacles to abortion care. Now that Texas’ ban has taken effect, Fund Texas Choice plans to help patients obtain abortions outside of Texas if their pregnancies have progressed past the six-week mark. Rupani believes this strategy is legal, but she’s aware it will be scrutinized by anti-abortion protesters. On Tuesday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Rupani about ongoing efforts to safely get Texans the abortions they need. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Anna Rupani: We’ve been contacting clinics all over the nation, not just here in our region, not just in Texas, because there are clinics we don’t always work with that may not know Fund Texas Choice exists, but we want them to know it does. So if they get a Texas patient, they can make sure to send them our way.

Mary Wilson: Because you anticipate a lot more people from Texas will be leaving the state to obtain abortions.

Yeah. Based on a survey, 98 percent of the clients we’ve worked with would have not gotten a procedure in Texas were this law in effect before.

Before this new near-ban went into effect in Texas, the cutoff for getting an abortion in that state was at the 20-week mark. Under the new law, it’s at six weeks. Could you explain why that makes it really difficult to obtain an abortion legally?

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That’s two weeks after a missed period, and most folks don’t know they’ve missed their period until it’s literally two weeks after the fact. So at that point, you realize you’ve missed your period and you do a pregnancy test and realize you’re pregnant. By the time you get to a clinic, for which wait times can be very significant, you’re well beyond the six-week mark. That’s why I said 98 percent of our clients would not have been able to access an abortion in Texas had this law been in effect before, because a lot of our clients are at the eight-week mark and beyond. You’re taking away 14 weeks of ability to access the abortion.

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That used to be allowed in Texas.

Yeah. But the way Texas wrote this new law is so unprecedented. Even Chief Justice John Roberts said it was unprecedented, because Texas is bypass judicial scrutiny by not having the state enforcing it, but allowing other citizens to enforce it, and so basically deputizing everyone.

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Roe v. Wade established the floor in terms of who gets access to abortion and at least what the law should be, and the floor was the state cannot get involved in a person’s decision in the first trimester. So the state cannot be involved in a person’s decision on what they do with their pregnancy in the first 12 weeks. Six weeks is obviously violative of that.

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But the state is not technically involved here.

Exactly. By saying the state isn’t going to act, it is trying to avoid being scrutinized as unconstitutional.

Is your organization worried about getting sued?

That is something that crossed our minds multiple times in multiple months of this year, even before the law was passed. We collectively watch what’s happening in the legislature, and we’re reading all of the anti-abortion laws that are going through. We saw this law and were shocked, shocked that something like this passed. But we’re all going to comply. If someone has cardiac embryonic fetal activity, we won’t be helping them get an abortion in Texas.

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Did it require some sort of discussion to come to that conclusion, to comply and not dodge?

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I don’t know if it required a discussion as much as, we need to do everything we can to be in existence, and if we don’t comply with this law, then we will definitively be sued. We want to continue to help Texans, so let’s comply with the law so we can continue to do that instead of shut down.

I keep thinking about patients you help at Fund Choice Texas who were really close to a cutoff point—maybe they had a procedure scheduled and then they hit up against the threshold beyond which they can’t get an abortion. Are you working with someone like that, or many people like that? Do you know how those people are coping?

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The franticness we felt in the last couple of weeks with our clients has been huge. Clinics had started seeing more patients increasing the amount of folks they were seeing. On average, our program coordinator says we see six to 10 clients a week, and she was seeing 20-plus a week in the weeks leading up to Sept. 1.

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We’ve been talking about what’s going to happen, how to prepare for it. But all of us, we’re not going to entirely know what it’s going to look like until we start doing the work. This is not something I say lightly: Many folks will be forced to carry their pregnancies to term. Many folks will have to do it because they cannot make those trips. they cannot do the long distance, unfortunately.

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I’ve read everywhere that the new Texas law does not penalize people getting abortions, but when I hear you describe the obstacles the law puts in place, it may as well be a penalty.

It does feel like that, yes, the laws are unnecessarily restrictive, unnecessarily overburdening. I’m not going to minimize that. But the reason I keep trying to say that it doesn’t penalize clients is because I want them to hear that organizations like Fund Texas Choice and Frontera Fund, Lilith Fund, West Fund, the Bridge Collective Clinic Access Support Network—these organizations that are doing the grassroots work on the ground are there for you. We want to make this journey a little less difficult.

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I’m thinking about the downstream effects: How many clinics will stay open? How many people will go to work at providers? How many people will go to work for Fund Texas Choice and groups like it, if they could get sued for up to ten thousand dollars? How do you prepare for the possibility of like a war of attrition by a million lawsuits?

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You can’t. Mentally, I think we are preparing for the onslaught and trying to make sure there’s money there to hold against it. That’s why donations and fundraising are so important, and that’s why I encourage everyone to donate to the Texas abortion funds that I’ve been talking about. We’re on the ground doing the work, and we’re autonomous organizations. The point of this law is to make us not be in existence. But I think the will of the people is stronger, and I think the will of Texans who continue to just show up for Texans is greater. And I think there’s a way we can survive.

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You sound like you’re picturing something in your mind when you say that when you say Texans will help other Texans.

It’s not something I’m picturing. It’s something I’ve seen. Fund Choice Texas was created because another law targeted clinics in 2013, and it basically shuttered more than 50 percent of these clinics immediately. We were founded because Texans stepped up for Texans. We all stepped in for one another, and the outpour of donations and love and support we have all seen convinces me that Texans are here for Texans and they will support them. I don’t just mean Texans that are in Texas—I mean Texans who were here and left and still support the cause and are angry and frustrated that their home state is doing the things it’s doing.

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